Guns of Navarone, The (1961)

Guns of Navarone, The (1961)

“The only way to win a war is to be as nasty as the enemy.”

During World War II, Major Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle) leads a skilled commando unit — consisting of a former mountaineer (Gregory Peck), a demolitions expert (David Niven), a Greek colonel (Anthony Quinn), an engineer (Stanley Baker), and two female resistance agents (Irene Papas and Gia Scala) — in attempting to bomb a pair of gigantic, Nazi-owned guns on the Greek island of Navarone.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anthony Quayle Films
  • Anthony Quinn Films
  • David Niven Films
  • Greece
  • Gregory Peck Films
  • Military
  • Nazis
  • Richard Harris Films
  • World War II

This top-grossing film of 1961 — based on a 1957 novel by Alistair MacLean, with a screenplay by Carl Foreman — was helmed by J. Lee Thompson, and featured an international cast of actors generally considered too old for their roles, but nonetheless convincing as a motley group of specialists brought together for a seemingly suicidal mission.

The action is nicely paced throughout, with tensions between characters emerging quickly, and an added eventual plot twist of a traitor in their midst. Meanwhile, there are ample Nazi baddies to hiss at.

The film was shot both in studio and on location (on the island of Rhodes), and the title (fictional) guns themselves are truly a sight to behold. As DVD Savant points out, the film’s “immediate legacy can be seen in the best of the James Bond films, where 007 similarly squirrels his way into outrageously grandiose vaults and fortresses.”

Given that this is a film best seen to be enjoyed, I won’t say much more about it.

Note: Interestingly, Alexander Mackendrick was originally hired to helm this film, but was fired due to “creative differences”.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the ensemble cast — particularly David Niven as Cpl. Miller
  • Good use of location shooting (merged with studio footage)
  • Numerous exciting action scenes

Must See?
Yes, as an engaging Hollywood epic. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Good Show
  • Historically Relevant


One thought on “Guns of Navarone, The (1961)

  1. First viewing (5/20/21). Must-see, as a solid WWII-era flick. As posted in ‘Film Junkie’ (fb):

    “The only way to win a war is to be just as nasty as the enemy.”

    ‘The Guns of Navarone’: One of the main reasons that I’ve enjoyed participating in Sylvia’s film fanatic project all this time is because it has either introduced me to films I might never have discovered on my own or it has kept me reminded of the many films that, for one reason or another, I need to get around to seeing. It’s not easy keeping up with film history. There’s just way too much celluloid.

    ‘TGON’ was released in 1961 and I was 6 at the time. Even though I started watching movies fairly early on, I don’t think I was seeing a whole lot of film at age 6. I didn’t even see ‘West Side Story’ until years later – and that was the only film that was more popular than ‘TGON’ in 1961.

    I still should have gotten around to it sooner than now. After all, it’s directed by J. Lee Thompson – who maybe, overall, didn’t have a great career but he was at the helm of two films I like quite a lot: ‘Tiger Bay’ and ‘Cape Fear’.

    ‘TGON’ is even better than both of them. It’s quite a rousing tale, dealing as it does with an Allied commando unit (a somewhat-more clean-cut version of ‘The Dirty Dozen’) ordered to destroy two cleverly concealed and very formidable German ‘guns’ (they’re huge motherfuckers) which are causing all sorts of military naval destruction in the Aegean Sea.

    The way the film plays out entails non-stop complication; one unanticipated situation after another, some so severe that getting out of them seems unlikely. Needless to say, all of that makes for one considerably tense flick. There’s pretty much no end to the drama.

    And Thompson directs with admirable flair. This thing seems to fly by, even though it’s a bit long. (The special effects won an Oscar.)

    Leading the sturdy cast are Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, David Niven, Stanley Baker and Anthony Quayle. Irene Papas and Gia Scala enter late in significant supporting roles. As far as wartime adventure epics go, I like this one a lot more than, say, ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ or ‘The Great Escape’.

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